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The Jazz Singer

Neil Diamond was a driving force in the world of pop music during the 1970's and 80's and someone got the bright idea that his popularity could be capitalized upon by making him a movie star. The 1980 film The Jazz Singer is the second remake of the history-making 1927 film that came to be known as the first "talkie", but this film shamelessly rips off a cinematic legacy and makes a singer's attempt to become an actor look pretty lame.

Diamond plays Jess Rabinovitch, a Jewish cantor who attempts to defy family tradition (cantors go back five generations in his family) and become a rock star, changing his last name to Robin. Jess forsakes his wife (Caitlin Adams) and his very strict father (Laurence Olivier) to go to California when he learns that rock star Keith Lennox (Paul Nicholas) wants to record one of his songs. Even though that doesn't work out, Jess decides to stay in California to continue pursuit of his dream with the help of Lennox's former aide (Lucie Arnaz) and his BFF from New York (Franklyn Ajaye).

Needless to say, this film probably bears little resemblance to the 1927 original, which was actually based on a play by Samson Raphaelson. Herbert Baker's long-winded screenplay attempts to give a contemporary face lift to an outdated story, utilizing every tired show biz movie cliche that we've been subjected to in far superior movies. I guess we weren't supposed to notice because it's Neil Diamond. We have the defying-the-family scene, to the showing-the-vet-how-to-perform-my-music scene to our hero achieving a modicum of success (which occurs in about 20 minutes) and letting it all go to his head to the leaving the pressures of success to go out and "find himself." Richard Fleischer's lackluster and unimaginative direction doesn't help matters either.

Diamond does provide some nice songs for this film, which are probably the best thing about it. Written by Diamond, Alan Lindren, Gilbert Becaud, and Doug Rhone, the songs include "America", "You Baby", "Amazed and Confused", "Summerlove", "Hello Again", and the fabulous "Love on the Rocks."

I remember seeing this film during its original theatrical release and having my high hopes dashed. I've always felt a bit of a kindred spirit to Diamond because we share a birthday, but it doesn't change the fact that this film is a real snooze-fest. The acting ranges from wooden to over the top. Diamond is just out of his element as an actor and even Laurence Olivier is hard to take here...the climactic scene where he tears his clothes and declares he has no son is almost funny, though it really shouldn't be. A lot of money and faith went into this project, but faith sadly turned to dross here.